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Russell v. Sentinel Insurance Company, Ltd.

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

January 2, 2018

Bernadette L. Russell, Appellant,
v.
Sentinel Insurance Company, Ltd., Respondent.

         Hennepin County District Court File No. 27-CV-16-3487

          Scott Wilson, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and James G. Vander Linden, Levander & Vander Linden, P.A., St. Louis Park, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Raymond L. Tahnk-Johnson, Law Offices of Steven G. Piland, Overland Park, Kansas (for respondent)

          Matthew J. Barber, James S. Ballentine, Schwebel, Goetz & Sieben, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota (for amicus curiae Minnesota Association for Justice)

          Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge; Schellhas, Judge; and Kirk, Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         When an uninsured-motorist policy provision does not define "hit-and-run vehicle, " a vehicle is a "hit-and-run vehicle" if the vehicle does not stop and leaves the accident scene and the insured does not have an opportunity to obtain the unidentified driver's information.

          OPINION

          HALBROOKS, JUDGE

         Appellant-insured challenges the district court's grant of summary judgment to respondent-insurance company on the insured's breach-of-insurance-contract claim seeking uninsured-motorist benefits. Appellant argues that (1) the district court erred by concluding as a matter of law that the vehicle involved in the accident was not a hit-and-run vehicle and (2) a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether the unidentified driver was negligent. We reverse and remand.

         FACTS

         The facts in this case are largely undisputed. One morning during rush hour in July 2013, appellant Bernadette Russell and two coworkers were power washing the second level of a downtown Minneapolis parking ramp. At or around 8:30 a.m., a small SUV drove over one of the power-washing hoses, caught the hose on a tire, and continued driving, dragging the hose about "half the distance of the ramp." The hose tightened and struck Russell, who had her back turned. Russell fell to the ground. The SUV did not stop and continued driving up the ramp, and its driver was never identified. Russell left the scene in an ambulance. She does not remember being struck and has little to no memory of the incident.

         Russell made a claim for uninsured-motorist benefits from her insurer, respondent Sentinel Insurance Company, asserting that the SUV is an uninsured motor vehicle because it is a hit-and-run vehicle. Sentinel denied coverage, and Russell sued. Sentinel moved for summary judgment, arguing that Russell could not prove that the SUV is a hit-and-run vehicle under the terms of her policy and failed to produce evidence that would support a determination that the driver was negligent.

         The district court granted Sentinel summary judgment, concluding as a matter of law that the SUV is not a hit-and-run vehicle because Russell could not show that the driver fled the scene to avoid liability. The district court determined that the SUV would qualify as a hit-and-run vehicle "only if it [were] found that this driver drove away intentionally escaping liability for injuring Ms. Russell with her vehicle" and that Russell had no way of proving that the driver knew that she hit ...


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